Should Military Officers like Jim Mattis Enter the Political Arena?Roundup
tags: military history
Michael J. Stricof is an instructor of American history at Aix-Marseille Université.
Without saying anything about the presidential campaign, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former defense secretary and retired Marine Corps general Jim Mattis became the center of the political conversation this week when they denounced President Trump. Although Trump has courted military men and placed them in his Cabinet, his disregard for the law, his divisiveness and his erratic nature rub many, like Mattis, the wrong way.
On Wednesday, the general wrote: “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander in chief, with military leadership standing alongside.” He lamented that Trump was the first president in his life “who does not try to unite the American people.” Instead, “he tries to divide us.”
This back and forth reflected the key role the military has come to play in politics, campaigns and elections today — and likely will play as 2020 continues.
But that obscures how new this role is. Retired military officers have regularly offered presidential endorsements over the last three decades, but the first in the wave of such endorsements didn’t come until 1988 when retired Marine Corps commandant P.X. Kelley came out in favor of George H.W. Bush. As mundane as it feels today, this practice reflects something quite dangerous — the increased politicization of the military and the reliance of civilian politicians on the armed services for credibility.
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